Hollywood Facelift

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Wed, 02/13/2013 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

Later this month a viewing audience of some 1.2 billion people worldwide is expected to turn their attention to the annual Academy Awards ceremonies. There will be much talk that evening about the dresses the actors are wearing and perhaps a bit of gossip about who has had (or has not had) a facelift. Taking center stage literally will be the biggest facelift of all. This will be the first Oscar ceremony since Dolby acquired the naming rights to the theatre from Kodak and a small army of Dolby engineers has worked feverishly to upgrade the building’s sound and picture technology from top to bottom. And the team responsible for that upgrade is confident that the Oscar broadcast this year – at least from a technology perspective – will be the very best ever. I recently took part in a conference call with three of the Dolby executives who were among those charged with supervising the renovations and ensuring that the sound the night of the broadcast is superior. They included Ramzi Haidamus executive vice president of marketing and business development David Gray vice president worldwide production services and Gary Epstein product marketing manager professional content tools. The Dolby Theatre encompasses 180 000-square-feet with an 86-foot-high-ceiling – four times as large in square footage as its adjacent neighbor the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre) which played home to the Academy Awards in 1944 1945 and 1946. David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group and Theatre Projects Consultants designed the theatre. The stage is one of the largest in the country at 113 feet wide and 60 feet deep. The theatre seats 3 332 people. The Oscars were first held there on March 24 2002 when it opened as the Kodak Theatre the same year that Halle Berry and Denzel Washington took home the Oscars for Best Actress and Best Actor in a motion picture. Two of this year’s nominees – Zero Dark Thirty for Best Picture and Brave for Best Animated Feature film – had their premieres at the Dolby Theatre. And all of the Oscar-nominated films in the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories this year were released with Dolby technologies.  Not that Dolby is a stranger to awards. Films with Dolby audio have earned Oscars nominations for outstanding sound for 35 consecutive years. Haidamus called the Oscar awards show “the pinnacle of entertainment a showcase” and he said that “In terms of the theatrical presentation we built everything.” According to Haidamus the Dolby Theatre’s transformation is as dramatic as when black and white met color. Approximately 200 new speakers were installed throughout the theatre many of which will be used for the Oscars. The original screen was replaced with one 60-feet by 32-feet and a backup screen. They also installed a new Dolby 3D system two Christie 4K 4130 digital cinema projectors and 13 new subwoofers spread throughout the room to control the base. The renovation brought the theatre as close to Dolby Atmos playback capabilities as was physically possible. In a Dolby Atmos theatre Haidamus explained “a theatre’s entire ceiling is full of speakers.” That was impractical in a room where the ceiling is five stories high. With select clips featured in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound viewers with home theatre systems will have a truly immersive sound experience from the comfort of their living rooms that will be remarkably similar to that of the celebrities inside the Dolby Theatre. The night of the show a team of four people will manage the sound to ensure those watching at home have the very best sound experience. Epstein said the goal “is to bring the home audience in emotionally.” He’s confident this will also be true for viewers with less sophisticated home systems. “In Surround everything improves ” he said. A Dolby team of 70 sound experts spent a few months preparing the theatre for the Oscars. The process began in June soon after Dolby acquired the naming rights. A significant obstacle was the fact that Circ Du Soleil was using the theatre then as its permanent Los Angeles home and the Dolby team had to work around their performance schedule. “It was a challenge ” said Gray and he called the effort “an iterative process.” Circ Du Soleil was dark on Mondays so the Dolby team would come to the theatre on Sunday evenings after the last show and work through until early on Tuesday morning. They spent the rest of the summer tweaking things and installed the final set of speakers last October. The world will experience the results on February 24th. Once the Oscars are over the Dolby team will be able to convert the theatre from a live-events venue to a cinema venue in a mere 14 hours.